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Great First Start
on September 17, 2016
This is the first novel by Butler, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and I’m already yearning for his next one. We are all given gifts by the Holy Spirit but Butler got double portions in creative writing and inspiration. This is one of those writers for which my pen cannot do justice, cannot capture his brilliance, which is not to say that this is a perfect novel. Far from it, it suffers from many shortcomings, but what a start he has made and what a career awaits.
Set in a small town near Eau Claire close childhood friends marry each other, raise families, or leave town to make their fortunes in the big city but keep returning to the small town, drawn by the real friends they made in childhood, sometimes to recharge their batteries, sometimes as an ego thing, to shown their chums that they have outdone the pitiful future allotted to them in their senior class yearbook. But where there are life-long friendships there are accidents, resentments, betrayals and missteps unforgiven that festoon the road to happiness that lies before them. And, of course, woe to the outsider, who tries to spread money around to capture some of this childhood happiness. In this town, that is reserved for the natives.
But one book they must not study too closely at Iowa is Aristotle’s On Poetics that explained what a writer must do and what he mustn’t. There is no particular plot, per se, in this book but a collection of short stories only loosely connected to each other such as one might write as homework for tomorrow’s class. Obvious consequences of previous commitments are blithefully ignored in the welcoming beckon of new opportunity. A dairy farmer leaves for a long weekend and we hear more about what he’s packing for the trip than we do about who will milk the cows. In fact, so far as we know, he owns a peculiar breed of dairy cattle that do not need to be milked. Too many things happen in this book seemingly by chance, not as convincing consequences. Aristotle would be fuming.
But there is a kindness toward all characters that subsumes this book, where no one is glorified or demonized, making this a feel good read even if the corrective surgery seems awkwardly done or leaves scars. This is a book that will make you feel blessed for your friends, and, if you are lucky, a loving spouse, and a book that can do that is a good book.